Virtual Player: King's Knight, Powerball, Cruis'n USA and Wonder Boy
It's been an interesting couple of weeks for the Virtual Console (note that we didn't say a "good" couple). We've gotten an obscure Square Enix title, one of the games that got people talking about the Nintendo 64, and the first Sega Master System title to be released on the Virtual Console in the United States. If we're learning anything from these releases, however, it's that an impressive-sounding lineup isn't always a quality one.
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Price: 500 Wii Points
Originally appeared on: NES
RECOMMENDATION: Fry It
Thanks to the Final Fantasy series, Square Enix has a large and devoted fan base that is convinced the company can do no wrong. Those people have obviously never played King's Knight. The game's artwork, screenshots, title and story (about a kidnapped princess in the kingdom of Izander who needs rescuing by four heroes) make this sound like yet another Square role-playing game, but don't be fooled. This is actually a vertical-scrolling shooter -- along the lines of Star Soldier, Axelay or Blazing Lazers. Just replace the laser-blasting ships with a sword-tossing knight and the void of space with a medieval forest, and you've got a new twist on the genre.
The only problem is that King's Knight isn't very good. The controls are sluggish, the graphics are ugly, and the play mechanics are awkward and annoying. The characters' weapons have the ability to destroy anything on-screen, forcing you to constantly shoot your way through environmental hazards such as rock formations or forests. As you plow through the countryside, power-ups and enemies are uncovered. Being able to blindly blast everything takes a lot of excitement out of the game ? you only really have to move when a newly-revealed foe charges at you.
The collectible items add a (very) light RPG element to the game in the form of upgraded stats for the characters (speed, weapons, shield, etc.) and a special transformation that's achieved by collecting items in hidden caves. These new abilities don't add nearly as much to the experience as you might like, though. If you want a shooter on the Virtual Console, there are plenty of great ones available (like the three mentioned above). King's Knight just serves as a reminder that you should be wary of anything by Square that isn't an RPG (see also: Driving Emotion Type-S for PlayStation 2).
Developer: Namco Bandai
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Price: 800 Wii Points
Originally appeared on: Genesis
RECOMMENDATION: Fry It
You don't really see them much anymore, but futuristic sports games were pretty darn popular back in the day. Whether it was robots playing baseball or dudes in body armor running and punching their way down a field while carrying a glowing ball, gamers wanted a change of pace from the realistic sports titles (well, as realistic as you could get on a 16-bit system, that is).
Powerball is a sort of football/rugby/soccer hybrid where you're able to score by kicking the ball through the opposing team's net or by running it into their end zone. Because all sports in the future must be incredibly violent, you're free to punch, shove, and leap on people in order to claim possession of the ball. There are eight different teams to control, but, sadly, Namco was unable to secure the rights to use the real Powerball team names. This is most likely because no real Powerball teams exist.
The game gives a bird's-eye view of the large scrolling field, and although playing against the computer artificial intelligence is fairly dull, the game's not too bad as a multiplayer experience. Old sports games rarely hold up, though, and while Powerball is fairly decent, it's not really worth eight bucks. You'd be better off saving your Wii Points and hope that the Genesis version of Speedball 2 eventually makes it to the Virtual Console. That's the game that Powerball is desperately trying to be, anyway.
Price: 1000 Wii Points
Originally appeared on: N64
Cruis'n USA was quite the big deal when it was first released in arcades. It and Killer Instinct were the first two games that claimed to take advantage of Nintendo's "Ultra 64" technology, which was supposed to be the basis for the company's upcoming 64-bit machine. When the renamed Nintendo 64 was released, however, the hardware was considerably different than the arcade units, and the N64 port of Midway's racing game ended up being far less impressive than its arcade big brother.
Twelve years later, the game is even less impressive. The graphics look terrible, the frame rate is low, and worst of all, the actually racing is pretty darn dull. There's a two-player split-screen mode, but playing that just makes the already choppy gameplay even choppier. Cruis'n USA may have some mildly interesting history behind it, but it's just not worth the 1,000 Wii Points. It becomes even less of a deal when you realize that you could spend the same amount on Mario Kart 64, F-Zero X or Wave Race 64 -- all excellent racing games. Avoid this one with the same care that you would avoid the most recent Cruis'n game for Wii.
Price: 500 Wii Points
Originally appeared on: Sega Master System
RECOMMENDATION: Buy It
Ah, Wonder Boy. In the far-flung future, video-historians will write books about this series' long and complicated history. To briefly summarize, the company that originally created the game (Escape/Westone) worked out a deal with Sega that allowed Escape to retain ownership of the game while Sega owned the Wonder Boy character. After Wonder Boy was released on the Master System, Escape licensed the game to Hudson, who reworked the graphics a bit and released the game on the Nintendo Entertainment System as Adventure Island.
Confusing? Yeah, kinda. What it all comes down to, though, is that, main character aside, Wonder Boy is the exact same game as Adventure Island. The simple plot is the same (Tom-Tom the Wonder Boy is trying to save his kidnapped girlfriend) and the game has all of Adventure Island's quirks: Tom-Tom's control is extremely floaty, and his tendency to slide after jumping makes precise landings a bit difficult. His "vitality" bar constantly drains, forcing you to pick up the fruit that magically appears throughout each stage. The game is also fairly difficult, as Tom dies after taking one hit.
Despite all that, Wonder Boy is still a pretty fun game. It's a simple yet challenging platformer that provides a genuine sense of accomplishment when you clear a stage. If you've already bought Adventure Island on the Virtual Console, you'll probably want to skip this title, but if you're going to get one of the two, this Master System game does look a bit nicer than its NES equivalent. Now if only Sega would get around to developing a sequel where Wonder Boy teams up with his arch-rival and nemesis, Young Nastyman, to form a band that the likes of which had never been seen.